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Climate 'loss and damage' earns recognition but little action in COP26 deal

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Saturday, 13 November 2021 22:35 GMT

FILE PHOTO: A boy kicks a ball as his father searches through the ruins of their home which was destroyed by Cyclone Pam in Port Vila, the capital city of the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, March 16, 2015. REUTERS/Dave Hunt/Pool

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Efforts to create a new fund to help with climate-change-driven "loss and damage" fail as the U.N. talks close, but the problem rises up the global agenda

By Megan Rowling

GLASGOW, Nov 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An agreement reached on Saturday night as the COP26 climate talks closed pushed concerns about growing "loss and damage" from climate change up the agenda, as it becomes harder for many people to live safely on a hotter planet, analysts said.

But the Glasgow Climate Pact, after resistance from the United States, the European Union and some other rich nations, failed to secure the establishment of a dedicated new damages fund vulnerable nations had pushed for earlier in the summit.

Guinea, representing the developing-nation group at the talks, expressed "extreme disappointment" at the decision to initiate only an annual "dialogue" to talk about "arrangements for the funding of activities to avert, minimise and address loss and damage".

Low-lying small island nations that fear losing much of their land to rising sea levels - from the Marshall Islands to Fiji and Antigua and Barbuda - also said they were dissatisfied the fund they had called for had not been created.

Backers of a new "loss and damage" funding facility insisted it should be set up soon, ideally by the time of next year's annual talks in Egypt.

Harjeet Singh, a senior advisor with Climate Action Network International, noted the Glasgow outcome did at least recognise the rising costs of losses and damage in developing countries.

It said "climate change has already caused and will increasingly cause loss and damage and that, as temperatures rise ... will pose an ever-greater social, economic and environmental threat".

But, Singh said, the failure to put a fund in place to help poorer nations pay those costs means "we are walking in inches when we must move in miles".

The Glasgow deal did agree to fund the Santiago Network, a body that aims to build technical expertise on dealing with loss and damage, such as helping countries consider how to move communities away from threatened shorelines.

Ani Dasgupta, president of the World Resources Institute, a U.S.-based think tank, said COP26 had "finally put the critical issue of loss and damage squarely on the main stage".

But "to meet the needs of vulnerable countries, it is essential that the dialogues established in Glasgow be more than talk and result in recommendations on the scale of funding necessary", he added in a statement.

The United States and Australia, in particular, held up progress towards setting up a new fund for loss and damage.

Both have long pushed back against the possibility that industrialised countries with high historic levels of carbon pollution might need to compensate others for the damage caused.

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry told journalists the United States understood increased resources would be needed to help people on the climate change frontlines but work should first be undertaken to understand how that money could best be delivered.

A range of ideas have been proposed for how to fund loss and damage costs, including new taxes on fossil fuel sales or aviation.


Developing countries, at the closing session of the conference, welcomed progress in advancing efforts to adapt to climate change.

Adaptation includes things such as building higher sea walls against flooding, capturing scarce rainwater for irrigation, and switching to drought-tolerant crops.

Countries at the COP26 talks agreed to launch a two-year effort to define a "global goal on adaptation" - something included in the 2015 Paris Agreement but so far still vague.

There was also progress toward setting a firm target for adaptation finance, which currently accounts for just a quarter of international climate finance for developing nations, garnering only $20 billion in 2019.

The Glasgow pact urged developed countries to "urgently and significantly scale up" their adaptation finance and to at least double it from 2019 levels by 2025, en route to meeting a Paris Agreement goal to fund emissions cuts and adaptation equally.

During the conference, a range of wealthy governments stepped up with new pledges - totalling about $960 million - for two key U.N.-backed funds that help vulnerable nations adapt to climate change.

Still, the amounts pledged remained far below the annual $70 billion developing countries are thought to need now, an amount that could rise to $300 billion a year by 2030, according to the United Nations.

Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, said developed countries at COP26 were "finally beginning to respond to the calls of developing countries for funding and resources to cope with rising temperatures".

Gabriela Bucher, the head of Oxfam International, said the commitment to double adaptation finance at COP26 was below what is needed "but if realised it will increase support to developing countries by billions".


There were fireworks in the final moments of the conference when India, which relies heavily on coal power and is still boosting production of that fuel, watered down language in the COP26 deal from "phasing out" to "phasing down" coal power.

It also insisted there be "targeted support for the poorest and most vulnerable" to achieve a just transition away from fossil fuels.

European countries and some small island states that are most under threat from global warming criticised the changes.

But the revised text was ultimately adopted, with vulnerable countries saying they could not afford to walk away without a deal.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the conference had not achieved key goals such as winning agreement to fully phase out use of coal and to end all fossil fuel subsidies.

Wealthy countries also failed to make good on an unmet $100-billion climate finance commitment to support developing countries from 2020, with the text calling only for the money to be delivered "urgently".

"But we have some building blocks for progress," said the U.N. chief.

Debate now will likely rage around whether the conference did enough to keep alive the most ambitious goal of the Paris Agreement to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avert catastrophic climate change.

The UK official presiding over the conference, Alok Sharma, said that in his view "we have kept 1.5 within reach but its pulse is weak".

If current national emissions-cutting targets are met, temperatures are still due to rise about 2.4C above preindustrial times, a level scientists say would spur widespread crop failures, migration and more extreme weather.

Far steeper emissions cuts will be needed, with countries required by the Glasgow pact to come back with stronger plans by the end of next year.

Amanda Mukwashi, CEO of Christian Aid, noted that the COP26 talks had been billed as "the last best chance to keep 1.5C alive" - but that goal was now "on life support".

"Rich nations have kicked the can down the road and with it the promise of the urgent climate action people on the frontline of this crisis need," she added.


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(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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